Fly Rod Basics

How to choose a Fly Rod Part 1 | The Basics

Are you thinking about buying a new fly rod? Or perhaps just entering the world of fly fishing? Shopping around can lead to a huge variety of fly rods made in different sizes, lengths and rod materials. So why are there so many choices for a fly angler to decipher? The basic rods any fly angler should know about are dry fly, nymph, streamer and saltwater rods.

Rod actions

A primer on rod actions helps anglers to dive into the variety of choices available for different types of fly fishing. Rods that are said to have a slow action are good for dry fly fishing and presenting a light fly softly. The forgiving nature of this action aids in fighting fish with a softer touch that will not pull hooks or break tippets. Slow action rods have a mid flex or full flex rating with the rod bending significantly in the middle or beginning at the handle and flexing the entire rod length.

Stiffer rods have a fast action that allows for loading more weight such as heavy nymph rigs or large articulated streamers. Fast action rods load quickly but forcefully to shoot casts into the wind. Rods with fast actions have very little flex that extends the length of the rod. This type of action is paired up with soft rod tips and referred to as tip flex.

Dry fly rods

The rod everyone should start off with or the first special rod to add to your angling enjoyment. Most fly anglers have a general idea of how they are going to spend the majority of their time when on the water. If you are pursuing trout in moving waters then a high percentage of your time will be devoted to dry fly fishing. A dry fly rod is a must.

If an angler is going to chase trout along the banks of small creeks then a dry fly rod in the 8’6” length is a good option for accurate casting and dependable line management. Rods in the dry fly category are soft on the touch, often being mid-flex rods with gentle tips to lay down dry flies accurately. The forgiving nature of dry fly rods provides extra protection for lightweight tippets too. The Scott Flex is a great choice for casting dry flies with and accurate touch.

Anglers looking for a Cadillac to take to the river should consider the Winston Air fly rod as the ultimate choice for dry fly fishing. Light in your hand the Winston Air saves your shoulder after 8-10 hours of constant casting on a river.

Small streams with their common overhanging bank vegetation require shorter dry fly rods in the 6’ – 7’6” lengths. 2 weight and 3 weight rods are the general classification for this type of small stream dry fly angling. Tossing small poppers or damselfly dry flies to bluegills in farm ponds in another great type of water for breaking out the little rods. The ECHO Fiberglass rod makes anglers smile with an old-school flex and a fish fighting quality that makes brookies feel like bonefish. Short and sweet, the ECHO fiberglass enhances the enjoyment factor for small stream dry fly fishing.

Nymphing rods

A 9‘ tip-flex 5 weight is the ideal fly rod for most nymph fishing situations. Longer in length than a dry fly rod, a nine footer is the norm as nymph rods need to be able to cast the extra weight of a nymph rig, which can often consist of a heavy strike indicator, weighted flies and line weights. All of these things combat a traditional casting stroke so roll casts become the friend of a nymphing angler. Without the necessity to back cast, a roll casting angler can extend their nymph fishing with ease. Stiff back boned rods the ones that have strength all the way down into the handle are best suited for most nymph fly fishing situations.

There can be a lot of versatility with some nymph rods that would allow you to toss small streamers as well as present dry flies with a certain degree of proficiency. A nymph rod can cover a significant amount of water.

Streamer rods

A favorite for anglers looking to extend their fly fishing for other species such as largemouth bass, northern pike and carp. Streamer rods load forcefully to cast heavy, weighted flies a significant distance. Again the 9’ length is the norm for most streamer rod with a very fast action. Casting streamers on a dry fly rod will ultimately result in an errant hook landing somewhere you don’t intend such as the back of your head. A high quality streamer rod can throw heavy flies like darts in an English pub.

The weighty flies used in streamer fly fishing have become extraordinarily large over the recent years requiring rods with strength and resilience. To maintain the repetitive pounding streamer rods receive rod makers have resorted to using tougher materials to extend the life of most streamer fly rods. Two rods that stand out in this category are the Sage Method and the Scott Radian. Both provide the kind of quality that is necessary for a streamer rod to perform well for years to come with features such as titanium guides and high strength bonding resins.

Saltwater fly rods.

The Saltwater introduces a long list of considerations fly anglers must wade through. Once again the average length on Saltwater fly rods is in the 9’ league. Beginning with 6 weights and moving upward Saltwater fly rods are a stiff, resilient category of fly rods. Saltwater fly rods need to be tough as the constant exposure to the salt is where the harsh corrosive environment can ruin inferior gear. Combating the strength of some ocean species will surprise you. Choosing to spend a few extra dollars with this purchase definitely pays off in the lifetime longevity of your fly fishing gear and in your fish fighting power.

The Scott Meridian and the Sage Salt models are designed to withstand the harsh environment surrounding saltwater fly fishing. Employing features such as anodized surfaces and titanium reinforcement both Sage and Scott have devoted a significant amount of time and research into delivering the best quality to combat the destructive saltwater environment.

Fast tips are the type anglers look for when purchasing Saltwater fly rods. Able to punch casts into ocean winds saltwater fly rods must deliver when pressed or the permit of a lifetime could fall just outside the reach of your short casting attempt. Whether for bonefish on the flats or snook off the beach, saltwater fly rods must be designed to withstand the harsh conditions of the ocean environment, have fish fighting strength and be able to deliver a cast at long distance.


Dry fly, nymph, streamer and saltwater fly rods all specialize a sport for added angling enjoyment. Purchasing a new rod opens up waterways that may have seemed unfishable with a fly rod before now they become accessible. Tangling with new fish species on flies is a challenge any fly angler would embrace. Using the right tool for the job enhances your proficiency in fly angling. Stop into Vail Valley Anglers and flex a rod for your self to actually feel the difference each action employs.

Coming Next Month: How to chose a fly rod, Part 2 | Specialty Rods

Michael Salomone, “Sal”

Fly Fishing Guide & Content Writer